Pronghorn, Chapter 45: Running into the Night

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

Asa Pemewan continued to make deliveries under Manny’s tutelage through the evening. The senior driver allowed Asa to take roughly half of the orders to the doors and to keep roughly half of the tip money that resulted–close to fifty dollars, all told. When Asa asked him why he would give up on the money, Manny laughed and replied “It’s how it’s done, Newbie. It’s how I was trained. You ever train anyone on this, you do the same thing for ’em. Pay it forward, right?”

Asa could only nod at the comment. That, and think about the differences between the work done at the restaurant and the work he had done–and would probably still need to do–elsewhere. Because part-time work isn’t enough, even if it is decent work. I need more.

Asa and Manny did not only have delivery work to do, though. As predicted, cleaning the restaurant bathrooms fell to Asa–listed as “Newbie” on the chore board in accord with what had been explained as traditional. The work was not wholly unfamiliar to Asa; he had lived in apartments before, and he had generally kept his places clean. But the kinds of things that get left behind in restaurant restrooms–feces smeared on seats and walls, urine sprayed about, a splash of vomit, blood and bandages and pads and tampons that did not quite make it into the garbage can–were in excess of Asa’s experience. Gagging and retching took up time that could have been otherwise spent, and he was glad to wash his hands and get back on the road for deliveries when they came.

Too, Asa began to meet other coworkers as they came in for their spans of hours. Felicia continued to ooze disdain for him–and for the other workers in the store. Asa noticed that few spoke with or to her during the evening. He also noticed that Manny was shown a fair degree of deference, even by Jennifer, and that one of the cooks, a wiry, one-eyed man named Robert–never “Bob,” but only “Robert”–was given a wide berth. “Not because he’s mean, mind,” Manny said as he and Asa made another deliver, “but because he moves so damned fast and has bony elbows. And there was the one time with Dan Jackson.”

“What was that?”

“Punk newbie a few years back. Thought he was hot shit because he had a fancy car, didn’t think he needed to know things other than driving. Now, Robert’s head cook; he says do, you get it done. Jennifer doesn’t argue with him, you see, and even the higher-ups know he knows what he’s doing better than they do. But Jackass–Jackson–doesn’t do when Robert says to do. And Robert’s cutting produce at the time, chopping onions or peppers, I forget which. Anyway, Robert aims his eye at Jackass, but Jackass doesn’t care, just flops his ass down. So Robert throws his knife at him, lands it in the wall right above his head. And I mean like a quarter-inch above his head.

“Now, you’ve seen the knives on the make table, right? Got an eight-inch knife and a ten-inch knife. Robert’s got a cleaver squirreled away somewhere. None of the rest of us can find the damned thing. I think he sleeps with it or something. Anyway, the ten-inch knife’s the one that sticks in above Jackass’s head, quivering in the wall. And then the damned cleaver comes out, and Robert’s still cutting the produce, looks at Jackass and says do again.

“That time, Jackass did. I think he needed new pants, too.”

Asa looked agog at Manny. “How’s he still working?”

Manny chuckled. “I think he saw some stuff overseas. He doesn’t talk about it much, though. Don’t ask him, neither. I get the impression that he’d not approve.”

There were other drivers, too. Dan Jackson was long gone, of course, but there were Paul Keane–a taller, younger man, but reasonably humble–and Gerald Smitherson–a smart-alecky twenty-something who walked with a swagger when he wasn’t where Robert could see him. He’d proven worse than Felicia for disdain; while she seemed to spread her annoyance indiscriminately–and was at least a good worker–he made a point of poking at Asa.

“I know Aunt Olive didn’t think you were worth hiring. Not that I’d work at the Chandlery. Everybody in the family knows that’s where we put the rejects–which makes it great for Olive. But you couldn’t even get on there” came one tirade, and Asa shook his head as he walked away from Gerald. It only prompted a “Just keep walking, Newb. I don’t know why you’d come back here, either.”

“Don’t let it get to you” said Manny later on another run. “Gerald’s following Jackass–but he knows to do when Robert says to do. Never do know where the hell that cleaver is.”

“Why does Jennifer keep him on?” Asa asked his tutor.

“Robert? Because he’s damned good at the job.”

“No. Gerald.”

“Oh, that. Yeah. Well, he’s a Smitherson. You’re from here. You know what it means.”

Asa sighed heavily. “Yeah. I do.” It means that he can do more or less what he wants, and nobody’ll do a damned thing–except the head of the family. But who that is with Bartholomew gone isn’t clear. “He’s going to get worse, isn’t he?”

“Probably. It’ll take some time before someone comes out on top of things out there. And maybe the Hochstedlers and Zapatas’ll get involved, too. Hell, they’re all cousins or closer, anyway. It makes sense they’d be up in each others’ business.

“But don’t worry. Someone’ll pop up, keep the rest in line. You’ll be okay that long.”

Asa thought I wish I was that confident.

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